S.E. Hinton in 1967, the year The Outsiders was first published. (image from http://ew.com/article/2016/08/17/se-hinton-outsiders-50th-anniversary/)

50 years ago, a 16 year old from Oklahoma named Susan Eloise Hinton published her first book. She’d started writing it when she was 14, and it became the best selling young adult novel of all time.

I began writing in grade school, eager to make my own stories happen the way I wanted to. I had access to the local library, but my family thought my writing was some weird phase I would outgrow. I had some great English teachers who encouraged me through grade school, middle school, high school. I also made a D in creative writing the year (junior in high school) I wrote The Outsiders.

Her contract for The Outsiders arrived the day she graduated high school, and because she wasn’t yet 21, her mother had to sign too. She originally began working on the book because “I wanted to read a book that dealt realistically with teen life as I saw it.” Her publisher recommended releasing the book under “S.E. Hinton” instead of her actual first name, because a book written by a teenage girl might “throw some of the boy readers off.” She continued later to publish under that name, to both take advantage of the fame she’d earned with it (“I made the name famous. I’m not gonna lose it.“) and to keep her private life protected and separate (“I like having a private name and a public name. It helps keep things straight.”).

The Outsiders still sells half a million copies every year, but is also challenged by conservative groups frequently enough to earn it a place on the American Library Association’s banned books list — which doesn’t bother Hinton because “It’s been required [and shared] much more than it’s been banned.” The book was adapted and made into a movie, along with other books of hers. In honor of the book’s golden anniversary, Penguin Random House released a 50th Anniversary Edition in 2016. It not only contains the classic tale, but also bonus material and photographs.

Hinton completed college and was certified to teach, but, “I realized early on I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Teachers are my heroes. They have more guts and energy than I’ll ever have.” She got married (she met her future husband in her biology class her freshman year of college), had children, and continued her writing career instead.

In 1988, Hinton received the first Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Ten years later, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame at the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers. Altogether, she wrote five Y.A. novels, all set in Oklahoma, as well as two children’s books, and two books for adults, a novel and a collection of short stories.

Hinton continues to write, working on screenplays and “an adult paranormal comedy thriller.” Her advice?

Aspiring authors: Read and practice. Worry about the writing, not the publishing. Publishing is changing rapidly. Make sure you have something worth publishing before you try. I was writing constantly for eight years before I wrote The Outsiders. If you’re young, you will have to come up with a book as good as the adults are publishing. Nobody is going to say “pretty good for a fourteen-year-old” and invest in a book. It has to be good.